Parliament treads tricky minefieldComment on this story
Cape Town - Parliament may have to deal with two tricky matters as it gets down to business this week: what, if any, steps to take against the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs for Thursday’s unruly walkout, and a court recommendation for the removal from office of elections boss Pansy Tlakula.
However, much less controversial will be Tuesday’s Youth Day debate and the election of committee chairpersons. The process of electing 32 National Assembly committee chairpersons and 11 National Council of Provinces (NCOP) committee chairpersons starts on Tuesday.
Political tensions could fly over how Parliament should deal with last week’s Electoral Court ruling that a National Assembly committee should remove Tlakula from office because her role in the acquisition of the commission’s multimillion-rand Centurion head office was tantamount to misconduct.
While the DA has called for an ad hoc committee to be established in line with the court decision, the ANC said this would be “premature” and “legally untenable” as Tlakula, who has asked for a leave of absence, is appealing the Electoral Court judgment to the Constitutional Court.
“We hold the view the National Assembly should await the conclusion of the legal process before it exercises its obligations in terms of the law,” the ANC said.
Under the Electoral Commission Act, the Electoral Court can recommend the removal of an IEC commissioner, including the chair, for misconduct, incapacity or incompetence. Such a finding must go to the National Assembly, where a committee has to endorse it, before the president acts on it.
Last week’s Electoral Court ruling followed a court application by several opposition political parties, excluding the DA, before the May 7 elections. They argued for Tlakula’s removal on grounds of misconduct after a public protector report, and an independent forensic investigation under the auspices of the National Treasury, over her role in the procurement of a multi-million rand IEC head office.
In October, an ad hoc committee dealing with the public protector’s report, which had found mismanagement and conflicts of interest, decided Parliament could not act.
The public protector had “misdirected” herself, and violated the separation of powers, by asking Parliament to approach the Electoral Court, the committee decided.
Meanwhile, at Tuesday’s plenary session, EFF MPs could hear whether an investigation would be instituted for what last week’s presiding officer, NCOP chairwoman Thandi Modise, described as “disruptive and unacceptable behaviour”.
At the end of the two-day parliamentary debate on President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address, EFF leader, Julius Malema, refused to withdraw comments, found to be unparliamentary, that “the ANC government massacred the people in Marikana, those police were representing the ANC government”. Instead he insisted: “When police reduce crime, you come here and say the ANC has reduced crime and when police kill people you don’t want us to say the ANC government killed people. It is inconsistent.”
After being ordered from the House, the EFF MPs staged a walkout to shouts of “Murderers” and “You were the premier when people were killed!”, in reference to Modise’s previous job as North West premier.
On Friday, Modise said she would consult Hansard, the record of parliamentary debates, the recording of that joint sitting and also consult with Speaker Baleka Mbete, but the incident could well be a matter for Parliament’s powers and privileges committee. Under the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament Act, a standing committee can be appointed to deal with disciplinary action against parliamentarians.
A guilty verdict could lead to a formal warning, reprimand, an order to apologise, a fine of no more than a month’s salary, the suspension of a parliamentarian’s right to participate in any proceedings or the suspension of a parliamentarian, with or without pay, for up to 30 days.
The EFF said on Friday it would seek a legal opinion and would, if necessary, go to court to challenge any sanction. “There is nothing wrong with (saying) the ANC government murdered people in Marikana,” Malema said at a media conference on Friday, according to Sapa. “At least in court we’ll get a neutral person who is not an ANC deployee.”